By essentially swapping Justin Williams for Erik Cole today, Jim Rutherford feels that his team’s chance of making the playoffs has greatly increased.
With Williams still out for another three to four weeks, the jury was out on how much he could actually help the Hurricanes qualify for the playoffs, even if he came back with games to spare. By acquiring Cole, who Rutherford said is scheduled to be at practice tomorrow morning at the RBC Center, the team gets a player who can help immediately.
“We’re in the most crucial time of our season where we had a chance to bring back a good player, and we decided that was the thing to do to give us a better chance of making the playoffs right now and going forward,” said Rutherford.
As for Cole himself, the Canes' GM said he talked to the player just prior to the press conference and got some good feedback on the trade.
“He’s really excited about coming back,” said Rutherford. “I don’t think that he was as comfortable in Edmonton. He was used to being here, and he views this as his home. He has very good chemistry playing with Eric Staal, and I don’t think he found that chemistry playing with anybody else in Edmonton.”
While the decision will ultimately be that of Paul Maurice and the coaching staff, Rutherford said he expected Cole to be reunited with Staal on the team’s top line. That would move Tuomo Ruutu down to another unit, which will greatly increase the team’s depth at forward. – Depth Chart
That familiarity with Staal and many others in the organization should help the Hurricanes in a way that bringing in a fresh face may not have.
“It’s an advantage at this point in the season with only 17 or 18 games left to bring a player in that knows his way around the room and knows his teammates,” said Rutherford. “Those teams that trade for players that are just meeting their teammates, you don’t know how that’s going to gel and how that chemistry is going to be. There is an advantage to this trade that we made.”
In adding a player who can help now, Rutherford had said all along that any move would be made with the future in mind. Cole is an unrestricted free agent after this season, meaning the Canes can either try to re-sign him or elect to use the money elsewhere. Williams is under contract for two more seasons at $3.5 million apiece, so by moving that contract, the Canes will have much more flexibility in the summer.
“In the new system, which may sound a little odd and a little different than what you usually hear me saying, from a contract point of view this works out better for us,” said Rutherford.
The Canes weren’t alone in making a move today, as fellow “bubble teams” such as Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers, Buffalo and Florida all made trades of varying degrees. Carolina was the last one to have such a move made official, although Rutherford said that wasn’t a factor in his decision.
“I don’t get pushed by what other teams are doing, because some of these deals are going to work and some aren’t,” he said. “I hope ours is one that does.”